Sunday, September 23, 2018

I’ve Fixed Facebook. You’re Welcome.

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg 

Dear Mark,

I’m not a social media expert, but I play one on the internet. This is why I’m able to give you the following advice that will solve all the problems of your company—advice which is, I assure you, at least as good as any of the advice you’re getting on the inside.

And don’t give me that “Problems? What problems?” bunk.

You’re not only being held responsible for genocide, and for the bulbous orange baby now occupying the White House, you’re also being blamed for all kinds of discrimination. The New York Times, writing about one such example, points out:
Facebook has been criticized in recent years over revelations that its technology allowed landlords to discriminate on the basis of race, and employers to discriminate on the basis of age. Now a group of job seekers is accusing Facebook of helping employers to exclude female candidates from recruiting campaigns. 
Yeah, you got problems, dude. Here are three steps to solve them:

1. Go back to being the geeks you truly are 

Mark, your company is a tech company. And why is it a tech company? Because you’re a geek, Mark. What’s more, you have all the earmarks of a lovable geek. You’ve got the benign awkwardness, a wife you met in college who is her own form of geek, and the cool tech you brought into the world. In fact, the only times you stop being lovable is when you try to be something more than just a geek.

I’ve been in Silicon Valley since before it even was Silicon Valley, and I can tell you, Mark, we love guys like you. We’ve got 80-year-olds running around this valley who are just like you, except they’re wearing pocket protectors. And we love them, just like we love you.

So why does everyone else hate you? Because you’ve forgotten that, first and foremost, you’re just a geek. You’re not a publisher, you’re not a social engineer, you’re not a diplomat, or a lawyer, or a judge, or even a neighborhood watch volunteer. And you’re sure as hell not a politician. (And thank heaven for that, am I right?) No, you’re none of those things. You know why? Yeah, you know, repeat after me: because you’re a geek.

So, all these solutions you’ve come up with—the citizenship requirement for political ads, the 10,000 people you’re going to hire to manually deal with all this crap, or that crazy war room you’re building to safeguard elections—are never going to work. Because a tech company peopled with geeks needs to come up with solutions that are 100% tech solutions. Anything that relies on human intervention of any kind just will not scale. Dude, you’ve got 2 billion users! That’s a haystack the size of which humanity has never seen before, and the needles you’re looking for are the tiniest, shiniest, and sharpest of all.

And, in fact, you know this, because near the close of your misguided September 12 blog post, you admitted the following:
“The last point I’ll make is that we’re all in this together. The definition of success is that we stop cyberattacks and coordinated information operations before they can cause harm. While I’d always rather Facebook identified abuse first, that won’t always be possible.” 
To which I’ll say, nah, man, don’t drag me or my tax dollars into your shit. Instead…

2. Leave the other crap to the people who are paid to do it 

I’ll just say you made a huge mistake, Mark, both on the day you decided to refer to yourself in court as a publisher, and over the period of time you began acting like one by taking responsibility for the content on your platform. The only way an enterprise of the size and scale of Facebook is going to survive in the long run is to completely divorce itself from the content shared on the platform. Again, it’s a simple matter of scale. (Remember, 2 billion users!)

As much as I abhor Alex Jones, the law and society at large, not Facebook, should have been tasked with doing something about his violent incitements and other abhorrent behavior. And as much as I despise Donald Trump and the Russians who used your platform to help get him elected, it’s the job of government and, again, society at large, not Facebook, to address that very serious national security threat. Instead, you’ve got a bunch of idiot pundits and Congress-monkeys pointing the finger at you guys every time some butt-head posts something offensive, polarizing, discriminatory, or even mildly unpleasant.

And now you’ve even got viral Facebook stars and even your own employees jumping all over your shit. It’s like an amoeba, dude! Every solution you try just squeezes between your fingers! I’ll put it this way: I’m sure Samidh Chakrabarti is a great guy, but what the hell are you doing with a Head of Civic Engagement in the first place? You’re a geek! Your company is a tech company! Get out of the moderation business, man! I’ll say it again: 2 billion users!

One more thing…

3. Quit being so goddamn greedy

All this madness probably started well before your IPO gave you an out-of-the-gate market cap of $104 billion (or, after the immediate drop because of the “fiasco,” about $50 billion), but it was certainly IPO day that put the whole thing on steroids. You were interviewed by Evan Osnos for his New Yorker piece fittingly titled, “Can Mark Zuckerberg Fix Facebook Before It Breaks Democracy,” but you were probably a little shocked when you read the final piece. Yes, Mark, Osnos did some incredibly thorough reporting and laid it all out for us. A “Growth Team,” Mark? Seriously? Fifty million users weren’t enough? I understand that your perfectly valid response to that could be, “Screw you, bub. We’re up to 2 billion.” To which I say, see above.

But seriously, all I’m saying is, maybe picture yourself with personal wealth in an amount slightly lower but every bit as obscene as $67 billion. Maybe $5 billion, or $7 billion. You can still live in your mansion, still own all the adjacent properties, still have a healthy philanthropic presence, still put your kids through the best schools. But you’ll be able to forget about your shithead shareholders. They’ll be turning on you soon enough anyway. Put that IPO squarely in the rearview mirror, let your user base dwindle down to a nicely sustainable 200 to 500 million, let some competition come in, and go out there and compete the way you and your fellow geeks like to compete: on cool tech, on features, on UX, on practical jokes, even—on anything, that is, but that cancerous, corrosive, congealing pathogen known as attention.

Because the thing is, Mark—and this is the last thing I’ll say, I promise—lovable geeks aren’t greedy, and they never have been. Those 80-year-olds with the pocket protectors, they’re sitting there stymied by the fact that their Cupertino ranch houses are now worth millions. They’re making digital movies of their grandkids’ kindergarten graduations and distributing them to their families—on DVDs.

One day, that could be you.

You’re welcome.

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